MLB Hall of Fame: Making a Belated Case for Tommy John

Cliff Eastham@RedsToTheBoneSenior Writer IIMarch 11, 2011

Tommy John
Tommy John

Tommy John’s hopes of a bust in Cooperstown have long since died. In 2009, the BBWAA unceremoniously snuffed out his candle and sent him into MLB Purgatory with only 31 percent of the ballots. If the Veterans’ Committee does not act upon him within 15 years, he will be resigned to MLB Hell.

It is a shame too, because John is one of baseball’s nice guys. Hell, he even has a medical procedure named after him, shouldn’t that count for something?

Some think that he doesn’t come close to meeting the qualifications of a true Hall of Famer. I disagree, and will attempt, without sleight of hand, to win you over.

Some claim that he pitched longer than Christ walked the earth. That is nonsense, Jesus lived to the age of 33 and John only pitched for 26 years. See how things get twisted?

I am not a huge fan of sabermetrics, however, I do not believe he gets burned too badly when being held up to their light. his WAR of 59.0 ranks 46th among all pitchers in history. It beats out several great members of the HOF including Ted Lyons, Vic Willis, Dazzy Vance, Hal Newhouser, "Three Fingers" Brown, Whitey Ford, Red Faber, Ed Walsh, Koufax, Stan Coveleski, Joe McGinnity, Red Ruffing, Early Wynn, Eppa Rixey, Rube Waddell, Clark Griffith, Waite Hoyt, Lefty Gomez, Bob Lemon, Addie Joss and others.

His ERA+ of 111 is not the best in the world, however it is only one behind Ryan, Hoyt and Chief Bender and is better than Ruffing, Jesse Haines, Burleigh Grimes, Don Sutton, Wynn, Pennock, Catfish Hunter, and Rube Marquard,

His WPA of 25.06 is 41st on the career list, behind only 12 members of the Hall of Fame and is better than greats Jim Bunning, Wynn and Lemon.

Most knowledgeable fans know that John has more career wins than anyone who is eligible for the Hall of Fame, but is not there. His 288 wins are more than 49 HOF inductees, meaning that only 20 inducted pitchers have more career wins than he does.

Interesting, you say. I am just heating up.

In case you are wondering, the average HOF pitcher has amassed a total of 251 wins. That particular standard hits right where Bob Gibson lives, at No. 33.

John was a 20-game winner three times. That puts him in the same company as Sandy Koufax, Haines, Lyons, Marquard, Phil Niekro, Vance, and he surpasses Nolan Ryan, Bender, Don Drysdale, Ford, Hoyt, Herb Pennock (all who have two), and Sutton, Bunning, and Bert Blyleven (all who have only one).

Some experts claim John has lost too many games. It may interest you to know that some very fine HOF pitchers have lost more than he has.

Wynn, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn, Blyleven, Rixey, Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Neikro, Walter Johnson, Ryan, Pud Galvin and Cy Young have all accumulated more losses than John.

I would like to point you to a list of pitchers who have met some serious requirements. This august bunch of men have over 700 games,  285 wins, 160 complete games, 2200 strikeouts, and 4,600 innings during their career.

The results are astounding, to you not to me. Listed in order by games they are, Niekro, Ryan,               W. Johnson, Perry, Sutton, John, Spahn and Carlton. That’s it folks, just eight pitchers in history, whether HOF or not. Others may have appeared in 700 games but they have fallen short in at least one of the other categories.

Now that is an impressive list, I don’t care who you are. FYI, John is the only one on the list that's not a member of the HOF.

If you would like to throw out the complete games and use an ERA of 3.35 or less, you would have to say goodbye to Niekro and add Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens, which is still a formidable list in my opinion.

That list could be further reduced to southpaws, in which case we would say goodbye to each of them except John, Spahn and Carlton. Now, what say ye?

I realize all of these statistics are not necessarily what makes a Hall of Fame pitcher. However, I don’t think these qualities can be lost when speaking about the best pitchers ever.

John never won a Cy Young Award, though he did finish runner-up twice.

He was on his way to perhaps his best year ever in 1974 with a 13-3 record and an ERA of 2.59, when he permanently damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, just prior to the All-Star break. That lead to the surgery which now bears his name, forcing him to miss the entire ’75 season.

John actually won more games after the surgery than before it. He won 164 games during that time, which is one fewer than Koufax won his entire career.

When slugger Mark McGwire got two hits off him in 1989, he realized that it was time to retire.  It turns out that McGwire’s dad was John’s dentist. John quipped, "When your dentist's kid starts hitting you, it's time to retire!"

Whether you are a fan of John or not, it is hard to miss that fact that he had a very good career, and should rank alongside the others in the Hall of Fame.



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